With soaring mountains, colours that sing and fish that put on


With soaring mountains, colours that sing and fish that put on
The why
of Howe
With soaring mountains, colours that sing and fish that
put on fashion parades in a jewelled lagoon, Lord Howe
Island is a subtropical paradise out of a fairytale
Story Stephen Brookd
50 wish February 2013
waters, hosts the world’s most southerly large coral reef.
One of four island groups awarded world heritage status,
it is surrounded by a marine reserve and more than twothirds of the island is a permanent park. It is home to 130
species of birds; the reef shelters more than 500 species of
fish and 90 different corals.
No more than 350 people live on the island and only
400 tourists are allowed at any one time, so even with full
occupancy the beaches look deserted, a seemingly
abandoned bicycle by the side of the road above often the
only indicator of visitors.
Flying low over Lord Howe, I see the dense green
hills of the north slope down to fields and the lodges,
while to the west the crescent beach edged by the lagoon
and reef sweeps south to the cloud-capped Mount
Gower, which towers with its neighbour, Mount
Lidgbird, over the land mass, truly the place where the
mountains meet the sea.
From the aeroplane window I spy an even more
arresting sight, the inexplicable Ball’s Pyramid, at 551m
the world’s tallest sea stack, rising out of the Pacific 23km
away. This shard is a harbinger of the future of Lord
Howe, which will disintegrate in the coming centuries
until a similar remnant is all that is left. In fact, Lord
Howe is less than 10 per cent of its original size.
If the island’s airstrip looks tiny from the 36-seat
QantasLink Dash 8 200 Series, that’s because it is. We set
down on the narrow strip between Prince William Henry
Bay and Blinky Beach. The ground staff know every
second passenger by name, including my neighbour
Sheridan, a trainee teacher returning home, who has
generated excitement by bringing home a golden retriever
puppy as a present for her parents. Like the puppy, I’m
making my first visit to the island and I am here for
adventure. I shall swim, snorkel and cycle, and undertake
the eight-hour trek up the 875m Mount Gower. The prize
shall be the view, the cloud garden at the summit and the
bragging rights.
Lord Howe was discovered by accident in 1788 while
HMS Supply was en route to the penal settlement of
Norfolk Island. The first settlers arrived in 1834; the names
of descendents of the original families are dotted about
the pretty graveyard off the main street, with surnames
such as Andrew and Thompson. The first tourists hopped
Clockwise from top, cloud forests on Mount Gower
showing mosses and ferns; a male Lord Howe golden
whistler; Ball’s Payramid; a view of Mount Gower from
the sea; a QantasLink plane comes in to land on the
tiny airstrip; the tranquil CBD; the twin peaks of Mount
Lidgbird and Mount Gower; swimming with a turtle
James Goss; vanessa hunter; Kerry Lorimer; James Morgan
ake it on the authority of Sir David
Attenborough, the supreme
naturalist. “Lord Howe Island
is so extraordinary it’s almost
unbelievable,’’ he once wrote.
“You can get to it within two hours
from great cities, yet once there
you can see five species of bird
and over 50 plant species that live nowhere else on earth.’’
Thus, it’s a bit surprising to hear from a friend that
she couldn’t stand the place. The subtropical island
paradise has an astonishing volcanic landscape,
numerous rare species; you can swim, snorkel, cycle,
bird watch, hike, feast and laze about to your heart’s
content. What’s not to like? “You do know what I call
the place,’’ my friend Michelle draws me aside to tell
me over the summer break. “Not Lord Howe Island but
Lord Why?’’ It turns out the prevailing winds during her
trip had been so strong the result was bored children
and curtailed activities.
This anecdote merely emphasises two points: you
shouldn’t expect much over the winter months (in fact,
many lodges close) and while most visitors love it, this
island jewel just 11km long and 2km wide (at its widest
point) 600km off the east coast of mainland Australia is
not for everyone. Yet tales of its magnetism abound.
There was the retired Queensland postman who vowed to
visit, inspired after decades of delivering entrancing
postcards of the place.
There was the dying American who collected his
childhood sweetheart (she married someone else) for one
last trip so they could stand together in front of the banyan
tree out the back of the Pinetrees guesthouse. And from
Britain, there was the man who made the journey because
as a kid he would lie in bed looking up at a National
Geographic poster.
Its Edenic qualities have been well remarked on, as
well as its singular lack of a nightlife. It is also one of the
few locations in the world where you can have a digital
detox, as mobile phones don’t work and WiFi is scarce.
Whether you react to this with abject horror or delight
tells you a little bit about yourself.
Some facts: Lord Howe, where the tropical waters
from the Great Barrier Reef flow into more temperate
October 2012 wish 51
Far left, Arajilla, top to bottom: the Arajilla
Suite deck, the ayurvedic spa, inside an
Arajilla Suite. Middle, Capella Lodge, top to
bottom: balcony of the Makambo Loft, hotel
entrance, a Capella Suite. Below, two views
of the boatshed at Pinetrees Lodge
off trade vessels heading to Norfolk Island or Vanuatu
and were taken in by local families, and more than 150
years later tourism still operates pretty much like that.
Janne Shead, owner of the luxury Arajilla Retreat
with her husband Bill, greets me at the airport with a
beaming smile. We drive past the kentia thatch palms
(which Victorian England, mad for them, exported
around the world) and turn into a small street with a
welcoming cafe and a few scattered shops selling soaps,
polished shells, smocks and designer T-shirts. “This is
the CBD,’’ she says, acknowledging passing locals with
a wave of the hand. I smile at her joke before realising
she isn’t making one.
We turn right and park in front of a thicket of palms
and banyan trees and Janne announces we have arrived.
No buildings are visible, but up the path the main lodge
materialises with its triangular white painted roof. It’s
largely open on one side to the tangle of trees — a perfect
spot for meals and afternoon tea. Cylinders of muted
brown, olive-and-red fabric hang down from the wooden
ceiling and there is a Balinese vibe, with wooden
Indonesian sideboards and wall hangings of squares of
orange and grey cloth stitched together. Over dinner,
honeymooners sit shoulder to shoulder with retirees at
candle-lit tables, dining on grilled kingfish, tempura softshell crab and Frangelico affogato.
To visit Lord Howe Island is to step back, if not
millions of years, at least to an era before mobile phones
and when you left your doors unlocked at night. “We
don’t have keys,’’ Janne says after showing me around my
single-bedroom Kentia Suite. Turns out no one does.
52 wish February 2013
“To snorkel in the lagoon
is to unexpectedly find
yourself judging Fashions
on the Field”
Inside the suite you step up to the square bedroom,
with its high wooden pitched roof boasting two skylights.
The decor mixes muted light grey fabrics against antique
white, while the wardrobe is solid timber planking. Two
intricately carved silver collars of dragons are mounted
above the bed, upon which at turndown sits a little
cylindrical sniff box of neroli, lavender and chamomile.
Outside, it is just a few barefoot steps from the L-shaped
balcony to Old Settlement Beach, where you can cook
one of the resort’s BBQ packs.
The next morning I walk through the palms along
the timber boardwalk and turn left at a small stone statue
of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god, strewn with
petals, to attend the ayurvedic spa. It’s in a little tworoom wooden yurt. A foot cleansing leads to a body
massage and then a scalp massage and drenching of my
head in warm oliana oil.
To the uninitiated, the procedure feels a little light on
to those used to deep tissue, with some deft rubbing of the
thighs and upper back. But the results defy expectations.
After an hour, to my astonishment, I find myself leaping
off the massage table, fully recharged. Arajilla is set to
host a wellness retreat, showcasing yoga and ayurvedic
teachings, from February 21 to 26.
I take a glass-bottom boat out to the remote North
Beach for a spot of bird watching. Beneath the thick glass,
turtles swim in their quiet majesty. To snorkel in the
lagoon is to unexpectedly find yourself judging Fashions
in the Field, although here the female wrasse look rather
plain alongside the dapper blue-and-pink males. Little
purple jewels dart in and out of the coral, while a 1970s
patterned print of purples and scarlet turns out to be the
innards of a clam. At North Beach, the birds line up along
the sandhills — and masked boobies, black-winged petrels
and common noddies are plentiful. On the short trek we
pass a distinctive pandanus, also known as the forkedy tree,
with its angular buttresses branching down from the trunk to
the ground. On the island’s northern edge, dark grey basalt
rocks and light grey coral exoskeletons pile on the beach.
The vegetation feels familiar but slightly alien, hailing not
from Australia but New Zealand and New Caledonia. There
are no eucalypts, but rainforest plants abound.
During sunset drinks at Pinetrees Lodge (est 1848)
former police officers Jim and Rachael McFadyen, the
sixth generation from the same family to run the lodge,
muse over the attraction for visitors and locals alike.
“For me, part of the attraction is the beauty, for sure. But
it’s also the way the place works; it’s simple and it’s
honest,’’ says Jim.
South of Pinetrees lies Capella Lodge, a sister resort
to Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island. Its nine
suites are housed in a single block above the main lodge
building. The suites alternate single-storey and mezzanine,
making the balconies completely private. To sit on a
balcony in one of the wicker chairs, and use the little
turquoise ceramic block as a footstool and stare out the
back, is to be transfixed by a monumental view. The
foreground kentia palms thin out to a rolling green field
dotted with Norfolk pines. The calm sea is to your right,
while straight ahead up surge the mountains, the tops of
which are wreathed in cloud that comes and goes
throughout the day. The occasional waterfall along the
western slope springs up after heavy rain.
At Capella, hosts Libby Grant and Mark MacKillop,
who came after a stint on Dunk Island, are enormous fun.
In the main building, floor-to-ceiling windows in the
restaurant allow patrons to drink in the view unimpeded.
The furnishings are subtle: stone-topped tables, wicker
chairs and white-and-blue cushions don’t distract from
“Part of the attraction is the
beauty, for sure. But it’s also
the way the place works. It’s
simple and it’s honest”
the view. Outside, the deck houses a small plunge pool.
Like Arajilla and Pinetrees, Capella includes all
meals with its accommodation. And as with the other
lodges, menus change daily but can include sesameseared tuna, roasted lamb roulade and saffron pudding.
Wherever you eat, be sure to try the staple of the
island, the kingfish, which is caught fresh daily, often by
Bill Shead at Arajilla and by the guests themselves at
Pinetrees. Quite rightly, it has the reputation of being
one of the best table fish in the world.
Inside the Capella suites, the feel is beach house; the
sitting room has antique-white timber walls, a large
modular sofa in grey-blue and an expansive round wicker
chair. Paintings on wood feature kentia palms and local
birds. Coir carpet runs up the stairs to the bedroom,
which opens out to the knockout view. In the bathroom,
dark basalt slate tiles match the rocks thrown up on the
beach, while light falls from a narrow skylight on to the
ultra-modern basin, which is just a gentle indent in a
block of white stone. The toiletries smell exquisite —
lavender and mint handwash, lime cassis body wash and
vanilla ginger lily shampoo. The two-storey Lidgbird
Pavilion has an exterior bath, a heated plunge pool and
views that stretch from Mount Gower to North Beach.
All that remains is Mount Gower, all forbidding 875m
of it. I rise early to hit the 7.30am deadline at the meeting
gate and trudge down the hill from Capella in the rain.
Ultimately, my eight-hour trek lasts a mere 20 minutes.
Before long, Mark MacKillop drives down to inform me
that the guide has called the expedition off. The hour of
rain came at the wrong time and my hopes are dashed;
the next day I am back to civilisation.
But the weather soon brightens and so do I. Already,
there’s something for next time.
WISH travelled courtesy of the Lord Howe Island Tourism
Association and QantasLink.
QantasLink flies daily to Lord Howe Island
from Sydney during the summer and on
weekends from Brisbane. qantas.com.au;
lordhoweisland.info; arajilla.com.au; pinetrees.com.au;
lordhowe.com (Capella Lodge).
August 2012 wish 55